Here are a few tips you can use to become a better public speaker.
1. Don’t begin preparing for a presentation by building Power Point slides
Begin with note cards or a legal pad. Most corporate presenters build their Power Point presentations and then read the slides verbatim to an audience with a few anecdotes sprinkled in for filler. This practice has damaged public speaking. At best, Power Point has become a crutch for people that are capable of more; at worst, it has become a hammock for the lazy. The core problem with being overly Power Point centric is that you will focus too much on fluff and too little on substance. Remember YOU are the communicator, not the slides. For now… Close Power Point.
Now if you happen to have the gift of quick wit, winging a speech or presentation on improvisation alone may be adequate. But if you are like me and have no such gift, “winging it” leads to disaster. In toastmasters and formal speech training, I bombed the improv stuff every time. While you can learn improvisation skill with practice, becoming great at improv is unlikely unless you have a natural gift for wit.
In contrast, I believe anybody – including you – can become a great public speaker through good preparation and practice. I’ve found that quality prep and practice are the best antidotes to fear.
3. Write a basic outline including a thesis and at least three main points
This post is not about writing outlines. You can find that info here, here, and here. Outline writing rarely works for essays and blogging, but it works for speaking. I can’t explain why, but that’s my personal experience. I need to just start writing to create a post, but I can’t just start speaking to create a speech.
4. Memorize your outline
Memorize your outline in its entirety. Memorize it so thoroughly that you can repeat it to yourself effortlessly.
5. The secret that works for me
Practice your presentation at least a dozen times. But don’t imagine yourself in front of a large audience.
As you practice, imagine yourself talking to a friend – having a private personal conversation.
When you practice, never try to sound impressive or like an authority. Speak like you are speaking to an old trusted friend. You aren’t trying to impress him. You are just trying to help him understand the material. Focus on your friend, not yourself.
Perform each practice without notes or Power Point slides – drawing your content from your memorized outline and your experience.
Time the speech during your pratices.
6. Do not write out the speech verbatim
If you understand your subject, memorize your outline, and practice the speech – you shouldn’t need it written verbatim. Unless you are a skilled actor, writing it out verbatim may cause you to sound unnatural and awkward. So resist the temptation.
If your outline point reads – My Favorite WordPress Plugins – and you’ve installed and used them (they are your favorites, right?), why should you have your content written out verbatim? Trust yourself – and you’ll have no problem talking about them.
Having it all written down on a notecard or a Power Point slide – just in case you forget something – puts you in danger of reading a list of plugins and sounding plastic. I’d rather sound natural and forget a plugin, than sound plastic and remember them all. Most of the time you will remember them all. But if you don’t, it isn’t a big deal. No one will know.
7. Build your Power Point presentation last
Power Point presentations are required in today’s business environment, so build one and use it, but make it secondary to your personal communication. Build your Power Point presentation to compliment your speech, not your speech to compliment your Power Point presentation. You are the communicator! So communicate.